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8 things to know before visiting Australia

Feb. 07, 2022
10 min read
Sydney Opera House
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Australia will once again welcome foreign tourists and other visa holders this month as its borders reopen after almost two years.

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From Feb. 21, 2022, vaccinated travelers will be allowed to enter Australia with relatively few restrictions, provided that they have proof of full vaccination.

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At present in Australia, citizens, permanent residents and their families, international students, backpackers and migrant workers are all allowed entry into the country provided they have received two doses of an approved vaccine. This rule will now be extended to tourists too, with an exception if you qualify for a medical exemption which must be applied for should you have a medical reason for not receiving your full COVID-19 inoculation.

Australia had imposed strict caps on entry numbers during the pandemic because of the high cost of running hotel quarantine (even where the traveler pays the bulk of the cost) but those caps have now been removed as the hotel quarantine has ended for fully vaccinated arrivals (with the exception of Western Australia, which we'll discuss below).

The COVID-19 situation in Australia has changed dramatically in the past six months because of the omicron variant.

While this Europe-base, Australian author is very excited to hear Australia is finally reopening after two years, there are some important factors to consider before traveling there.

Australia currently has a high number of active cases

(Photo by @robertmello2au/Twenty20)

For much of the pandemic, Australia, along with other countries such as New Zealand and Singapore was considered one of the gold standards when it came to the management of COVID-19.

Their strict border controls, including mandatory hotel quarantine for all arrivals, meant community cases were very low for months at a time. Some major cities would not see a single new case outside of managed hotel quarantine for six months and would lock down an entire city if just a single untracked case was found to return numbers to zero.

The omicron variant dramatically changed this strategy. As major states like Victoria and New South Wales (home to Melbourne and Sydney, respectively) relaxed restrictions following rapid vaccination programs to combat the delta variant, the new omicron variant surged through the community.

Rather than plunging cities back into lockdowns, most of Australia opted instead to "live with [COVID-19]" — one month ago Australia was experiencing more than 100,000 new cases every day, which for a country of only 25 million people was a higher per capita rate of new infection than just about anywhere in the world, including the United Kingdom.

Screenshot from Our World in Data

The number of new daily cases has reduced in the past three weeks but there are still tens of thousands of new cases recorded each day.

Deaths from COVID-19 continue to below as they have been in Australia the entire pandemic.

If you are planning to visit Australia because you had admired their successful management of the pandemic, it is certainly not the COVID-19-free zone it was 12 months ago.

Western Australia has very different rules

Before diving into the rules and requirements for the rest of the country, it is worth noting that Western Australia (with its capital city of Perth) has very different rules from the rest of the country. This is because while the rest of Australia has opened up, Western Australia, or WA, has remained stubbornly (or smartly) closed.

International arrivals to Western Australia must apply for an entry permit and then:

  • Undertake 14 days of mandatory quarantine including seven days in hotel quarantine and seven days of self-quarantine at suitable premises, if eligible.
  • If the traveler is eligible to leave the hotel quarantine after seven days and goes into suitable premises, any other household members are also required to quarantine for the remainder of the traveler’s quarantine period.
  • They must also present a PCR test on days one, six, nine and 12 while in quarantine.

Visitors arriving from interstate to Western Australia must apply for an entry permit, and then:

  • Undertake 14 days of self-quarantine at suitable premises (seven days for a health worker), with the same requirements for household members at the self-quarantine premises.
  • Present a PCR testing within 48 hours of arrival and on Day 12 of self-quarantine (Day 6 for health workers), and household members will also be required to do a PCR test on the traveler’s 12th day.

Unless you have close family connections, work requirements or medical requirements in Western Australia it is unlikely you'll be granted access even if you are willing to undertake these testing and quarantine requirements on entry.

Unvaccinated visitors must still apply for an entry exemption

(Photo by Boy_Anupong/Getty Images)

If you are not fully vaccinated (with a recognized vaccine), you must apply for an entry permit from the Australian Government and you will most likely have to undertake mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine on arrival. This is at your own cost: You should expect to pay around $2,298 (£1,700) for a single adult.

As each state and territory in Australia is free to make its own entry requirements, further restrictions may apply for unvaccinated visitors. For example, the Northern Territory currently bans all unvaccinated visitors regardless of test results or quarantine.

You will need multiple tests depending on where you visit

Fully vaccinated visitors to Australia will need to provide the following:

  • Evidence of a negative COVID-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test or other Nucleic Acid Amplification Test taken within three days of your flight’s scheduled departure to Australia (unless you are exempt).
  • A medical certificate as evidence of a negative Rapid Antigen Test taken under medical supervision within 24 hours before your flight’s scheduled departure to Australia.

Children under the age of 4 are exempt from this requirement.

If your flight is delayed, you will still be considered to have met the predeparture testing requirements. You will not need a new test.

Excluding Western Australia, as described above, depending on which Australian state or territory you arrive in you will need to undertake a COVID-19 test within 24 hours of arrival and isolate until they receive a negative result. This test can be a lateral flow or antigen test though you should check each state or territories entry requirements as these can differ from state to state.

Be aware of transit requirements

You'll need to be aware of any transit requirements a connecting airline or airport may set which could be different to those required for Australia.

Related: Qantas is operating a test flight nonstop from London to Sydney today

If you have a long layover, some countries will not allow you to enter the country during your layover, even if it's just to go straight to a hotel and rest. You may have to remain airside at the airport your entire transit.

If this transit is longer than, say, 12 hours and there is no airside hotel available, that is a long and uncomfortable wait at the gate or in an airport lounge.

As much as I love some of the finest airport lounges in the world, I would not want to spend 24 hours in one.

You will still need to quarantine on entry, but only briefly

While fully vaccinated visitors no longer need to undertake mandatory hotel quarantine, you will still need to obtain a test within 24 hours of arriving, and isolate until you receive a negative result (excluding Western Australia). As you can use a lateral flow test for this purpose and results can be as fast as 15 minutes, your on-arrival quarantine could be very brief.

Lateral flow tests are not free in Australia for tourists. And if you cannot find or take a lateral flow test, you must take a PCR test and the result can take many hours, or even days to be processed.

Entry and testing requirements change regularly

While the situation is more stable than it was before Christmas, entry rules (including testing requirements) can and do change regularly in Australia. You can check the federal government's website which has links to each state and territories individual rules.

Hopefully, with case counts dropping and relaxed testing requirements, the rules will not change at the rapid pace we saw over the holiday period, when states switched from PCR to lateral flow tests because they could not process the volume of PCR tests being taken to comply with the extensive testing rules for traveling.

Still, you should check the entry requirements regularly between now and the time to travel to Australia as these can, and do change.

Masks and vaccine certificates are commonplace

With thousands of active cases across the country right now, you can expect to have to show your vaccination pass to be seated at indoor hospitality venues as well as attend major sporting events. You'll also probably be expected to wear a mask.

Masks were not commonplace in Australia for much of the pandemic as there were so few community cases. Like the United States, the Australian states and territories can set their own social distancing measures though most require masks and vaccination certificates for crowded public places due to a large number of active cases in the community.

You may also be required to 'check in' to venues using contract tracing apps. These will be specific to each state and territory so read up on any requirements before arrival and download any required apps.

Visits to aged care homes may be restricted.

Bottom line

Packing suitcase for travel vacation in new normal, top view.

The COVID-19 situation in Australia continues to evolve. The country has lurched from one extreme to another — six months ago some states had not seen community transmissions for months and other than closed borders it was as if the pandemic did not exist. (Melbourne was an exception, becoming the most locked-down city in the world.)

When the omicron variant arrived, other than Western Australia there was a dramatic shift from zero covid to 'living with the virus' and much of the country saw their highest ever new cases over the Christmas and New Year period.

Reopening to foreign tourists for the first time in two years from Feb. 21 is another step towards the new 'living with COVID-19' strategy. If you are looking for a coronavirus-free destination, Australia is not it.

You can expect strict testing requirements for travel, though quarantine on arrival has been greatly reduced in most states and territories. Compared with a month ago the situation is relatively stable, though do check entry and testing requirements regularly before you head down under as they can and do change regularly.

Featured image by (Image courtesy of Keith Zhu / Unsplash)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

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  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases